Everyone remembers Henry Ford’s ‘history is bunk’ line but not many remember the old horse-hater’s more vehement elaboration on the subject.
“History is tradition and we don’t want tradition,” Ballinascarthy’s most famous mechanic declared. “We want to live in the present and the only history that’s worth a tinker’s damn is the history we made today.”
A horse and jockey are going to make history very much worth a damn at Epsom on Saturday. But only a chronic lack of imagination – maybe of the sort that allowed Ford also opine that a car can be any colour just so long as it’s black – will dismiss the importance of tradition this weekend.
Quite simply it is history that makes the Epsom Derby the greatest race in the racing calendar.
Others might have more money. Some have catchier nicknames like the Kentucky Derby’s “greatest two and a half minutes in sport” or the Melbourne Cup’s supposed nation-stopping capabilities. There are races that overall might be more impressive in terms of the dry number-crunching business of handicapping.
But there is nothing that can compete with the resonance of Epsom.
Yours truly is not normally among the most sentimental of creatures but the Derby’s unique magic still managed to percolate through the system even further some years ago during a furtive pre-race walk of the famous track.
It is an exercise I would recommend. In fact quite why Epsom’s authorities don’t allow a walking of the course like Aintree do for the public before the Grand National is a mystery. One of the few benefits of doing this gig for a living is a badge that can allow access to some otherwise verboten areas and the Derby track was well worth flashing it.
Tattenham Corner and the famous descent to it might be the most famous Epsom landmark but at ground level there is no doubting the primary importance of the initial half mile.
It is a shockingly steep climb from the start. TV pictures don’t come close to doing it justice. Haile Gebrselassie would rise a sweat climbing it. And it’s where this famous tactical speed that Aidan O’Brien bangs on about really comes into play. If your horse isn’t quick enough to secure a good position in the first couple of furlongs then the game is mostly up.
In comparison, the drop into the straight is nothing compared to say Clonmel or Tramore. But overall the roller-coaster test remains the supreme test and as Tessio wrote the basis for an entire industry.
Doubt that and just think of some of the legendary names. Nijinsky, Shergar, Roberto and the other great Derby winners may have put in better performances during their careers but what’s the first image that flashes before the eye when their name is mentioned: damn right it’s winning at Epsom.
Saturday’s field will follow in their footsteps and the hope is that maybe one of them will put in a performance to rank right up there.
That demands that one of them has to be a true champion. And right now there is an obvious candidate for such a role. Sea The Stars is sure to get at least a mile and a quarter and the old adage that those sure of staying going into the Derby are mostly too slow still applies. If he can win on Saturday then we truly have an exceptional champion on our hands.
And that’s the sort of history that anyone can appreciate.